The Heart of Medicine

He turned 38 years old just a week ago. At 38, life is so ritualized that often, birthdays fly past with little acknowledgment. But his family would never forget this birthday. Though they didn’t know it at the time, 38 would be Ryan’s last birthday.

Ryan was your typical family man. He worked for Target as a local branch manager and put in as much overtime as he possibly could in an effort to assuage any college-related financial burdens his children would face in the coming years. Ryan met his wife in college some 17 years prior, and they fell in love almost immediately. In fact, it was Ryan’s wife, Holly, who helped him quit smoking. Ryan had been a smoker for 10 years and even just a few months after quitting, he was amazed at how much easier breathing had become for him. When he was diagnosed with pneumonia at a local urgent care center last winter, Ryan consumed a full course of antibiotics the mid-level practitioner prescribed him. Two weeks after completing his treatment, Ryan didn’t feel much better than he had when he was initially diagnosed with pneumonia.

He returned to the urgent care center. This time, he was seen by a family practice specialist. The doctor reassured Ryan that his illness was likely viral in nature, but sent him for a repeat chest x-ray because the first one showed an abnormality indicative of pneumonia. He was given a nasal spray and some antihistamines and sent back home. The next day, Ryan received a call from this family practitioner telling him to go to his local pharmacy to fill a script for a stronger antibiotic, as the x-ray showed that his pneumonia had not disappeared. According to the doctor, it was likely an especially resistant organism that required stronger antibiotics to treat. Ryan complied, as he still felt under the weather.

Four days into the new prescription, Ryan’s symptoms still lingered. Holly pushed for him to visit to the emergency room. The two left their six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter with her parents and drove to the ER.

It was a busy afternoon at the ER. After waiting almost three hours because there were other, “sicker” patients waiting for care, Ryan was finally brought back to his room. There, he received his third chest x-ray and had blood drawn. By the time the ER physician was walking into the room to introduce herself, the bedside nurse was setting up some IV antibiotics to run through line placed in Ryan’s left hand. When the blood work came back and looked fairly normal, Ryan and Holly were sent home with oral antibiotics and told they would be contacted if the blood cultures showed bacteria requiring further treatment with IV antibiotics.

Life went on for the next several weeks for Ryan, Holly, and their children as he became used to his persistent cough despite several courses of antibiotics. Ryan went through a couple of bottles of cough medicine with some relief of his symptoms as winter gave way to spring. The couple’s son, Jordan, was starting baseball and Ryan was set to coach his team. Jordan was so excited to have his dad coaching his baseball team. 20 minutes into the first game, Ryan collapsed at the first base line.

Somebody called an ambulance and Ryan was taken to the hospital, where an ultrasound of his legs showed a blood clot. This test was followed by a CT scan of his chest, which showed a blood clot in his lung. This CT scan also showed the sizable lung mass that had been mistaken for pneumonia at his first, second, and third doctor visits. By then, Ryan’s lung cancer had spread to his liver. He was 38 years old about to undergo radiation and chemotherapy after suffering from persistent, pneumonia-like symptoms he’d faced in the previous months.

It was too late for Ryan. At 38, he passed away from lung cancer because by the time he was diagnosed and received appropriate treatment, it was too large to treat effectively.

Now, his wife will raise their kids alone. Ryan will never coach his son in baseball or watch his daughter, Lilly, go to her first school dance.

Ryan’s story is not uncommon. All too often, people are diagnosed with lung cancer far later than they should be, severely limiting their treatment options. At LHS, stories like Ryan’s drive us to be better  healthcare practitioners. We take Ryan’s story personally, because he didn’t have to die from lung cancer. We strive to never let another father, son, husband, brother, and friend like Ryan fall victim to lung cancer. When your symptoms don’t subside as they should with the treatment you receive, don’t wait to notify your doctor and get a second opinion. Acting quickly and catching cancer early can save your life. We’re here to help you receive prompt, appropriate treatment for your condition.

Take control of your treatment and your life by being proactive about healthcare and seeking treatment immediately after your symptoms appear.